Special session on gambling produced one lemon of a bill


August 23, 2012

There's plenty to dislike about the gambling expansion bill approved last week in a special session of the Maryland General Assembly. But in fairness, there's plenty to like as well, such as the fact that voters will have the final say on this issue and can reject what lawmakers did. Also, there's the fact that ...

Well, OK, maybe there's not plenty to like.

Frankly, the bill is bad news, one more sign that the state is willing to cave in to gambling interests for a potential pot of money that seems to shrink with each passing month.

The bill would allow a sixth casino in Maryland, specifically in Prince George's County, even before the five already approved are up and running.

It also permits table games at all state casinos, a further expansion of gambling, and it weakens the restrictions on campaign contributions from the gambling industry proposed by Gov. Martin O'Malley.

As amended to appease reluctant lawmakers, the bill also will funnel less of the profits from the casinos to the public schools — and more to the casino owners — than originally proposed. At the recently opened casino at Arundel Mills, for example, the amount earmarked for the schools was cut from 67 percent of to 51 percent.

Elsewhere on this page is a letter from a concerned teacher, wondering what happened to all the money gambling was supposed to bring in for the state's schools, given that more and more teachers are paying for classroom supplies even as they see less frequent, less generous raises. It's a good question, and given the latest gambling bill, which boosts the casinos' share of the take at the expense of the state's, it's one many will continue to ask.

Thank heaven for that one good element of the bill: Voters will have the final say Nov. 6.

The gambling bill easily passed the Senate but passed the House of Delegates, traditionally less friendly to gambling, with no votes to spare. This is intriguing for those of us in Howard County because one of those supporting votes came from Del. Frank Turner, a Columbia Democrat who has long been one of the biggest skeptics of expanded gambling, particularly of adding a sixth casino so soon.

Turner's explanation for supporting the bill is that, as chairman of the House subcommittee on gaming, he had to defend the bill on the floor, which would have made voting against it awkward at best. From a purely political point of view, that explanation makes perfect sense. But it also explains why many folks are less than happy with politics and their elected officials. A system that prevents a lawmaker from voting his or her conscience on an issue is a broken system.

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